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‘Huzar v’ – a potential game changer on flight delay compensation

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‘Huzar v’ is the rather unprepossessing name for a legal case which wound its way through the Court of Appeal earlier this month.  The result may have a significant impact on the way that compensation is handled for UK airline delays.

Most Head for Points readers will be aware of EC261, the European Union legislation which gives you certain guaranteed rights if your flight is delayed or if you are downgraded or offloaded.  It applies to any flight that begins or ends in the European Union.

When it comes to flight delay, the rules give airlines a golden ticket to avoid paying compensation.  If the delay is down to “extraordinary circumstances” then no compensation needs to be paid.

Airlines have spent the last few years trying to define “extraordinary circumstances” as loosely as possible.  In particular – and this was the subject of the Huzar case – whether technical problems are included.

Poor Mr Huzar had a bad time of it, without doubt.  Jet2 left him stranded in Malaga for 27 hours on the way to Manchester when a wiring defect was found in the aircraft.

He started off by claiming £350 compensation from Stockport County Court.  Jet2 presumably chose not to settle with him in a decision which may prove to be very expensive.  When he lost, he appealed.

As The Law Society Gazette explains here, Jet2 lost the appeal:

Following a hearing last month, Lord Justice Elias said that for an event to be ‘out of the ordinary’ it must ‘stem from events which, by their nature or origin, are not inherent in the normal exercise of the activity of the air carrier concerned’.

If the cause of the technical problem, he added, was one ‘inherent in the normal exercise of the activity of the air carrier concerned’ then it necessarily followed that it is also within the control of the carrier and thus not extraordinary.

This judgement is automatically binding on all County Courts in England and Wales.  It will not be possible for an airline to claim that technical problems are ‘extraordinary circumstances’ and thus immune from compensation.

It is important to note that there is no easy way back here.  The only option left to Jet2 is an appeal to the Supreme Court.  The usual way to do this is to ask the Court of Appeal to allow it.  Given that all three Court of Appeal judges decided against Jet2, this would appear difficult.  The alternative would be for Jet2 to petition the Supreme Court directly but there is no guarantee that the case would be accepted.

Comments (56)

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  • Phil says:

    “It applies to any flight that begins or ends in the European Union” is a slight oversimplification.

    It applies to any passenger:
     departing from an EU member state, or
     travelling to an EU member state on an airline based in an EU member state.

    SAA gleefully quotes this to pax as it offloads them from its flights to Europe – and tells them to go to hell if they expect a hotel room or, god forbid, compensation.

  • Richie says:

    So back to my initial comment.

    I was on a flight with Thomas Cook 2 years ago. We set off from gatwick 3h late due to a fuel pump issue. Then we had a 10h trip over the Atlantic and landed back at our starting destination. -gatwick.

    We were put up in the hilton, and given a £10 voucher for food. The following day Breakfast was served in the morning and we flew out to our intended destination about lunchtime. We were given 1 round off free drinks from the airline. We arrived at our destination 26h late. So we lost one day of our all inclusive holiday.

    On my return I emailed Thomas Cook with a complaint and expected to compensated for additional food spend, loss of 1 day all inclusive package, additional drinks spend onboard, and flight compensation.

    After a nine month battle of sending emails, back and forward I received absolutely f@#k all from TC. It is for this reason I will never fly Thomas Cook again.
    The annoying thing is that our original flight was closer to Cuba when we turned round. The decision to return to gatwick was one made purely as the cheapest alternative. (Even at the expense of 320 paying customers)

    So is this something I should revisit and try agin with?


    • Deltawonwon says:

      What about your travel insurance? Did you get anything from them?

      • Richie says:

        When I looked at it it wasn’t worth the hassle. After excesses I would have been up about £40, I have since bought much better policy’s.
        The thing I’m most interest in is the eu flight delay 261 compensation.

    • Deltawonwon says:

      I doubt that the turn around was made purely on those grounds. The pilots (if they were in touch with their Ops Control – I doubt it as you were probably in Oceanic airspace with the only form of communication being HF radio) would have sought advise but ultimately the Captain would have taken the safest course of action. These are not simple decisions and depend on multiple factors (I take it it was an A330 aircraft? In which case TCX would operate it most probably under what’s called ETOPS rules, which following the failure probably prescribe turning around to the most SUITABLE airport – suitable is probably defined and cost doesn’t factor one jot). It’s cr@p when these things happen, but fortunately aviation is so reliable these days that these tend to be rare events.

    • Gabbai says:

      Go to one of the web sites that deal in delay claims and enter the flight details to see if it looks as though you might have a good claim. Try: [Disclaimer: I have no connection to Bott & Co]

  • Richie says:

    The turnround was due to unavailability of the part need ed in Cuba, which would of meant there aircraft was stuck there a day longer then if it returns to gatwick. This was confirmed by the pilot.

    Does this seen like a case I should revisit now?

    • Deltawonwon says:

      I think it depends on the exact wording the Airline used. But, from what you’ve said it seems that you might have a case. Good luck!

      • Richie says:

        Should I just send another letter asking for compensation under 261″ and explain I want my case reviewed because of a similar decision in the jet2 case?

        • mrtibbs1999 says:

          Yes, you are entitled to the Full EU261 compensation at the applicable rate, if what you say happened did happen. Write to the Airline, demanding the money and referencing the recent judgment. Give them 28 days to respond and threaten to take them to court if they do not pay within the 28 days. Following that file a claim on MCOL and wait and enjoy your money.
          You must be sure that the delay was due to technical reasons and not weather, strikes, ash clouds or any act of god or any other ridiculous uncontrollable reason.

    • TimS says:

      Given the high price of LGW apron parking costs (especially in summer), fuel costs for the extra flying back to LGW and than back out to Cuba, I doubt the cost “saving” was much different, whatever the pilot may have told you. In my experience, commercial pilots (and Ops controllers for that matter) have little or no idea of costs. All they care about is AOG downtime and potential discretion hours.

      More likely the flight crew didn’t want to be stuck downroute!

      • Richie says:

        I think the story of no part available in Cuba was probably correct. Most of Cuban planes are Russian.

        • TimS says:

          Yes it will be correct that there was no part in Cuba but one could have been brought out as cargo on another flight the next day for far lower cost than the fuel cost of positioning back to LGW then parking up there for the night. Cuba’s apron costs are a fraction of LGW’s. LGW charges for ALL aircraft movements while Cuba doesn’t so again returning to base unnecessarily is a higher cost.

          Trust me on this, I have costed up very similar operations very recently!

  • Fenny says:

    Of course they realise. They just don’t care.

  • Gabbai says:

    Airlines care about the bottom line. That does not just mean the financial bottom line. If there is great “free” publicity to be gained from a situation, that may be the solution. If it happens to benefit the passengers, they lucked out on the way. If on the other hand there is no PR angle, the airlines will take the cheapest way out. Only a small percentage of passengers really know their rights and only a certain percentage of them will actually fight for their rights. So unless there is great PR to be gained, the passengers can go to hell or Cuba or wherever. Most of them will anyway be happy with a lolly and a voucher for $50.

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